Paul O'Connell: We didn't have our normal accuracy
Schmidt's men ready for French showdown
IRELAND just about stayed on course for a World Cup quarter-final collision with either New Zealand or Argentina at The Olympic Stadium.
This was billboarded as Ireland's first real test of their mettle.
It turned into a test of nerve in what Paul O'Connell called "a very inaccurate performance".
"We just put too many balls down and when we do that we can't play our game," he said.
They met with a familiar foe who came with a promise of better than they had produced due mainly to the return of captain Sergio Parisse.
Ireland were sound at the outset, Tommy Bowe taking the kick-off and Conor Murray pounding the recycle to halfway.
Paul O'Connell cleaned up a dirty ball. Jonathan Sexton spiralled a kick for 60 metres. Keith Earls thundered Michele Campagnaro in the tackle.
An overcooked Tomasso Allan punt offered the Irish a lineout. Sexton spilled the ball from a quick delivery off the top.
Parisse knocked Mike Ross back and Josh Furno ate up metres. It took a Seán O'Brien hand in to overturn the ruck.
Murray's swift service tempted Ireland forward and Sexton shot through down the left. Henderson was twice stopped in his tracks in a show of force from Italy.
The consistent pressure drew a penalty and Sexton shot Ireland to the lead in the eighth minute.
The Italians went for power in the scrum. It never budged. Parisse whipped the pill left. Earls was there to handle Michele Campagnaro.
Jamie Heaslip was whistled for playing the ball on the ground and Allan made it 3-3 in the 15th minute.
Parisse bumped off Rory Best before Henderson tied him up for a maul turned into a scrum. It was a chance Ireland seized on. Murray peeled away and grubbered for the concession of a lineout.
Peter O'Mahony nipped in ahead of Parisse at the front. Heaslip and Henderson shared the hard yards. Then, Sexton linked up with Robbie Henshaw, whose strength and subtlety put Earls in to overtake Brian O'Driscoll as Ireland's highest try-scorer at the RWC.
Sexton's converted for a 10-3 lead at the end of the opening quarter.
They were looking good for more gains when Best fumbled and Parisse triggered a counter.
Paul O'Connell was too slow to roll away at a ruck. Allan kicked three more for Italy.
Full-back Simon Zebo's too-long tumbling kick invited the pressure of a scrum. Italy moved well to carve out a penalty. Parisse went for the corner.
Hooker Andrea Manici overthrew. Murray picked up the pieces at the tail and Ireland were away.
Scrum-half Edoardo Gori was clumsy in upending Dave Kearney. But, Sexton could only find the left upright from the penalty.
They managed to stay in position. Their maul moved. Murray nudged the ball on.
There was a final chance when Earls accelerated away without the support getting to him.
Coach Joe Schmidt surely asked for a reaction. He didn't really get it. Instead, Bowe was pounced on by openside Simone Favaro to earn a penalty. It took an O'Connell poach to get Ireland out of jail.
They ramped up the line-speed. Henderson blocked Allan and carried the fly-half towards his own posts.
The to-and-fro enabled Parisse to have a major say in Josh Furno coming within one crucial Peter O'Mahony tackle of a breakthrough try.
An irresistible surging maul drew a penalty which Allan smacked over in the 52nd minute.
Hard running from O'Mahony, Henderson, O'Brien and Best got the gain line. Sexton took three points for 13-9 in the 58th minute.
O'Connell's leap, Bowe's high fielding and Murray's clever kicks contrasted with Gori's location of the deadball line.
Allan's handiwork caught the eye of referee Jerome Garces for Sexton to make it a seven-point game.
Henderson choked up Luke McLean for a scrum to Ireland just before Parisse was withdrawn in the 65th minute.
Henderson soon followed and his replacement Devin Toner quickly secured a lineout. Not for the first time, Murray kicked, first to the air for Bowe, then along the floor for Bowe in a game of patience.
Then, O'Mahony was branded with a yellow card for illegal use of his shoulder to leave Ireland vulnerable for the endgame.
The concession of their tenth penalty when they were drilled at a scrum brought with it an unpalatable possibility.
Chris Henry clutched an overthrown lineout and Sexton tickled a kick inside the 22.
The closure came when Sexton rifled to touch.